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Friday May 27th, 2016 8:28AM

Hamlin cleared after metal removed from eye

By Jenna Fryer, AP Auto Racing Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A small piece of metal in his eye, and not a sinus infection, caused Denny Hamlin to miss last week's race at California.

Hamlin was not medically cleared to race last Sunday by doctors in the infield care center at Auto Club Speedway. He had visited the care center on Saturday and Sunday complaining of an irritation to his eye, and it was determined at the track that it was related to a recent sinus infection Hamlin had suffered.

Hamlin was referred to a local hospital for further evaluation, and once there, "a small piece of metal was found to be in Hamlin's eye," Joe Gibbs Racing said in a statement Wednesday.

The metal was removed and JGR said "Hamlin felt immediate improvement." By then, the race at Fontana had already started and replacement driver Sam Hornish, Jr. was behind the wheel of Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota.

Hamlin underwent further testing in California before he was cleared to fly home to North Carolina. He was evaluated in Charlotte on Monday and again on Wednesday, when it was determined he had no lingering issues with his vision and is cleared to race this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Hamlin has four career victories at Martinsville and an average finish of eighth.

The timeline of Hamlin's diagnosis and revelation it was a piece of metal in his eye and not a sinus infection comes a day after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. called on NASCAR to release information regarding Hamlin not being cleared to race at California.

Earnhardt, during an appearance Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, questioned why there had been no official NASCAR statement or further explanation from Hamlin on what happened. He was particularly interested because it is so unusual for a driver to be parked shortly before a race is about to begin.

"I'm worried the perception is bad for NASCAR and the perception is bad for Denny," Earnhardt said. "If Denny didn't race because his vision is blurred and he had a sinus infection, NASCAR should put out a release and say, 'This is the timeline of the events and this is why we made this choice and this is the protocol for going forward.'

"That answers everybody's questions. Don't you have questions? I have questions. We shouldn't have questions. We should all feel pretty comfortable with what happened."

Earnhardt missed two races in 2012 after he suffered his second concussion in six weeks. He drove for weeks following the first concussion, which occurred while testing at Kansas Speedway. He was cleared to drive following that crash, and the concussion was discovered after he wrecked again at Talladega.

"If Denny did everything right, that's good to know," he said. "Why NASCAR did the things they did and the timeline, it would be good to know those things because the drivers are all curious and the fans are curious. Information is moving around. It just doesn't need to be going on. We should all know what happened and know why it happened and be done with it and not have to worry about it."

WDUN will have live MRN Radio coverage of the STP 500 from Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, VA on Sunday beginning at noon on 102.9 FM and at 1 PM on 550 AM.
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